Monday, July 25, 2011

Black Cloud? Come on...

Oh, the problems a Native can have — and one of them is starring in movies that are just not that good.
“Black Cloud (2004)” is a movie about a young Navajo man fighting his way through life with his fists — because he’s a boxer — and by finding himself through a number of deaths and events that lead him down the bottle, into the sweat lodge and back into his girlfriend’s arms. It was filmed in the Gallup area, near my hometown of Crownpiont, and had a huge opening at the local theaters there. No doubt, the people in the theater seats were also disappointed, but got a good laugh out of it like I did.
Maybe it’s because I live on the edge of the Navajo Nation — on the New Mexico side, but come on, Natives do drive and own vehicles that were made in 2011 and some of our roads are paved. Movies like these only solidify stereotypes and hide the real and current culture by opening the movie with a powwow dream or having the lead character posses a special connection with a coveted wild stallion the elders tell stories about.
One of Black Cloud’s greatest dilemmas was coming to terms with his mixed blood. Apparently his great-grandfather was a respected white man and he nearly kills himself over it and joins a drunken gang of other mix-blood rejects. Maybe the writer forgot that in the Navajo way, if you belong to a clan and you know who your family is, than you’re Navajo. I have certainly never seen or heard of a mix-blood group.
The plot was good and had so much possibility but it was smothered in cliché, unrealistic dialogue and bad acting. The conflict was too quickly resolved and could be more conflicting because being a mixed-blood is not that bad, especially for a guy like Black Cloud, a grown man with an obvious Native name who already loves a half-white child and has very strong ties to the elders and his culture.
I want a good Native movie without the cliché and stone faced Natives with long, strait, black hair. I’d rather see a drama about tribal government crimes against the people — a high-risk lawyer story like “Philadelphia.” An action movie — possibly in 3-D — about a super ghost warrior coming back from the dead to defend his people against a ravaging, late-1800s U.S. Army. A comedy about a group of Natives at a big city conference finding their way back to the U.S. after boarder control mistakenly picks them up — ala Hangover. And a satire about a group of young Natives coming back from the city to set up a healthy vegan sandwich shop on the rez only to go broke and resolve the issue by finding other, morbid means of nutrition (this piece is already half written by yours truly, so don’t copy).
In the mean time, I will continue to write my play, and wish other — future — Native movies would be better. But, you know, kudos for the attempt. It’s always a very nice surprise to see a movie with some familiar Native culture and people.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It hits close to home

I’m not talking about one man was singled out in a dark alley of a huge city in the dead of night. I’m talking about a Native family beaten on a busy Nevada interstate — en route to Reno — in broad daylight by a couple of punk skinheads (read the story here).
No, John Quiñones didn’t pop out of the bushes on May 24 with his camera crew and ask passers by, “why didn’t you stop to help?”
There were bloody wounds, broken bones, a public that turned the other cheek and there seems to be police negligence/cruelty. The Native man who was severely beaten was taken to jail and left there for six days with no medical treatment and charged with battery with a deadly weapon. After many worried phone calls, police curtly told family to get his “Indian doctor,” who were then denied access to the man. The 1920s anybody? Silly me, this is 2011 — and the punks bragged about the incident on Facebook and weren’t charged a thing.
Now, I’m not from the Reno Sparks Indian Colony nor have been a victim of such brutality — thank goodness — but this hits close to home. I know Jen, a good friend and a Shoshone-Paiute raised in a town 20 miles away from where the beatings took place. Her Facebook status said she was scared and others replied with sympathy, sympathetic hate, frustration, shock and sadness.
The mentally disabled Navajo man who had a swastika branded into his skin and shaved on his head by a couple of guys in Farmington could have well been my cousin — most likely via our clan (Ké) system.
Native Americans represent less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population so you can bet we know each other. I’ve met cousins at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, I know a Seneca from New York City, a Crowe from Montana, a Minnehaha from North Dakota, a Cheyenne from Wyoming, a “real” Cherokee from South Dakota, Eskimo, Chippewa, Blackfeet, Ponca, Nez Perce, Hopi, Pueblo, Tohono O’odham… you get the point. Besides the Navajo and Cherokee, other Native tribes are very small — from just a few dozen to a few hundred — and we’re a close-knit family. And you know how it is with families; when your brother gets hurt, you hurt too. 
It makes me feel afraid sometimes. I feel the cuts on my throat, the bruises on my back, the burning tears and anger.
Hate needs to stop.

Monday, July 11, 2011

History is bitter sweet

A settlement of more than $3.4 billion for the government’s “alleged” mismanagement and literal theft of trust funds for around 500,000 individual Indians was approved June 20. It is the largest settlement to be approved against the U.S. (Read the story here)
Those thousands of Indians, or their heirs, will receive about $1,000 for the resources harvested and utilized on their land, payments they should’ve received since they were given an Individual Indian Monies account.
The settlement is a result of the 15-year lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar, brought about by Elouise Cobell, a modern-day hero in the Native community and a Blackfeet.
My mother is an heiress. We own some land on the outskirts of Crownpoint, N.M. She, nor I, never knew about the Cobell case until I had to do research on it for one of my American Indian Studies classes — yes, even Native Americans have to take classes to learn about Native Americans.
Frankly, I don’t think she cares. It’s really only pocket change compared to what is really owed to Natives, and pocket change won’t make a lifetime of poverty feel better or worth it. The most I can get out of my mom is an “oh” and a “hmm.”
For many Natives, it’s just another promise by the government and who’s to say the Bureau of Indian Affairs won’t mismanage and literally steal what’s promised to individuals this time around? Let’s just see how long it takes for my mom to get a $1,000 check in the mail.
That’s one viewpoint.
I for one am excited. This case will be included in a chapter in future history books — under trust land, resources and Cobell in the index. I am witness to the government owning up to it’s mistakes, admitting they were wrong, they are sorry and are giving back to Natives what’s rightfully theirs. I am witness to a better government-tribal relationship.

What is an individual Indian money account (IMA) you ask? This is not where we store our riches to build our casinos. No. IMAs came about during the allotment era (late 1800’s up to the 1930’s) in American Indian history. Indian trust land was split up between individual Indians. As soon as word got out that some land was loaded with lucrative resources but blocked by the big “Trust” sign, the BIA assigned IMAs to legally lease out that trust land while collecting money they would disburst to their individual landowners’ IMAs. Obviously that didn’t work so well and the system was plagued by theft, negligence and mismanagement.
What is the allotment era you ask? 1871 to 1928. This is the time when Natives lost most of the land they were assigned — allotted, and it was all legal. As said before, land was assigned to individual Indians which was guaranteed trust status, meaning no one can tax/buy/sell it, for about 25 years. No one sent out a memo to Indians about their own land business and if they did, they made it very difficult to understand. You have to think back to when Indians didn’t all speak English, let alone understand the legal jargon in fine print. They were also a people who didn’t believe Mother Earth should be owned, bought or sold. Suddenly landowners, who didn’t have jobs and were in a desperate state of poverty, were getting bills in the mail — taxes — when the 25 years were up. They couldn’t pay and lost their land in auctions where their land was sold for mere pennies. Or, they couldn’t afford food for their family and were forced to sell their land.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cool things to do

Three years ago, I switched by major and transferred to NMSU, 300 miles from home, because being a journalist seemed like the cool thing to do. Little did I know journalism always makes the top 20 lists of useless jobs and career paths, right up there with art and theater.
After I graduated in the winter of 2010 I was unemployed, which also seemed like the popular thing for kids to do after they graduated.
Unemployed with a seemingly useless degree was my occupation for five months. Rent and bills in the mailbox scared me more than anything. There was a whole lot of sitting in the dark and baking going on in a small conventional oven smaller than my first Easy Bake.
I freelanced for everyone I could: the Las Cruces Sun-News, Navajo Times and — the latter two being Native American-owned and -operated news publications.
I’m Navajo by the way. Not a drop of Irish blood in me — though that’s a different story come St. Patrick’s Day. I’m from a small town on the reservation called Crownpoint, N.M., which is internationally known for is monthly rug auctions and total lack of aesthetics.
But back to my spiel about how I got here.
While freelancing for the Sun-News, I heard about a job opening as an editor’s assistant and I jumped at the chance. They hired me even before I could fill out an application.
Now that I’m here, it seems like the cool thing to do is write a blog. I rolled the thought around in my head and thought about things I was passionate about, a topic on which I had a lot to say, and, that could be interesting, entertaining and edifying.
What’s more awesome than writing about your own people? I embrace my heritage and I try to keep myself in the know about recent issues and happenings.
I’m doing pretty cool things these days. I hope my blog about Native American people and issues turns out to be… well, cool.